Nature is at the heart of a healthy garden. Bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi support plant growth; earthworms aerate the soil, invertebrates pollinate flowers and song thrushes, toads and ladybirds protect our crops by eating snails, slugs and aphids.
Look out for common toads this autumn
Many gardeners encourage these processes by adding ponds, sowing wildflower areas, putting up nest boxes for birds and embracing no-dig, organic gardening methods. The importance of these actions is that they support the natural world both inside the garden and in the wider environment – neither of which can exist in a healthy state without the other. Another positive result of gardening with the natural world in mind is that the effort you put into your garden to support wildlife is returned to you in spades.
Putting up nest boxes is one way to encourage wildlife.
This summer, the daily joy of watching painted ladies (one of the 18 species of butterfly we’ve seen in our small suburban garden since the spring) feeding on the Verbena bonariensis
can’t be beaten.
Earlier this year, my mum persuaded my dad to leave areas of unmown grass in their lawn, which quickly reverted to thistles, knapweed, vetches, violas and ragwort. Within a few weeks, they had over 40 damselflies in amongst the flowers and grasses even though they haven’t yet built a pond.
The daily contact with the damselflies and other creatures in the wild patches has had a hugely positive impact on my mum, who suffers from ME and is often confined to the house and garden for long periods.
The bluetailed damselfly
In addition to boosting wellbeing, regular contact with nature in the garden is a fabulous way to learn about the wildlife with which we share this living planet. Not only that, technology is now making it easier to contribute our growing knowledge to scientific surveys that are carried out across the UK. The more data these studies collect, the better equipped the organisations behind the surveys are to help protect the UK’s rapidly diminishing wildlife.
is one of the most widely used recording systems, now with over 11 million records. You don’t need to be an expert to contribute garden data to online surveys. You simply need a willingness to learn, a good ID guide and the confidence to give it a go. All data on iRecord is checked by experienced county recorders, and once you are registered, you can build up a profile of the wildlife in your garden and see your records in the context of the local area.
You can also post your photos on candide with the hashtag #wildlife
There are numerous surveys out there covering most areas of interest. Perhaps you could help to monitor climate change patterns by collecting information about the weather and the first examples of seasonal changes in your area (the first snowdrop or swift) with the Woodland Trust’s ‘Nature’s Calendar
’ project. Or maybe older children or grandchildren would enjoy going on a local Herbology Hunt.
They can then share their wildflower finds on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #herbologyhunt
, as part of a project run by the Wild Flower Society, supported by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland.
‘Blooms for Bees’
is another garden-friendly citizen science project that collates data to find out which flowers are preferred by bumblebees and which species visit gardens and allotments around the country. And with a little bit of kit (add a moth trap or bat detector to your Christmas list or invite a local naturalist to survey in your garden) you could collect and share information from the twilight world of moths and bats.
Whether you get pleasure from watching the blue tits feeding their young with caterpillars from the cabbages, find peace among the buzzing of pollinating insects on the lavender or derive satisfaction from entering the latest moth records to IRecord (poplar hawk and iron prominent this weekend in my dad’s garden), wildlife enriches our lives in so many ways. Its presence also highlights the vital role our gardens play in supporting healthy ecosystems across the wider landscape.